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Riverside Walk project hotly debated at council

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A COUNCIL decision to proceed with the final phase of the Riverside Walk project in Omagh before flood alleviation works are carried out has been slammed as "folly beyond belief" by a local councillor.

The decision to progress the long awaited development - which will link up residents in the Strathroy and Derry Road areas with the town centre - was hotly debated at the full Fermanagh and Omagh District council meeting last week.

Omagh Town councillor, Josephine Deehan, criticised the decision to go through with the third phase of the Riverside Walk project at this time.

Dr Deehan believes the project should be deferred until the first phase of the Omagh Flood Alleviation Scheme, which involves the realignment of the River Strule within the Lisanally Campus, is allowed to be completed.

She is concerned the project may have to be redone when the Flood Alleviation Scheme works finally commence in the future - a view supported by fellow councillor, Chris Smyth.

Members met with the Rivers Agency in May last year when it was explained the River Strule needed to be realigned in order to accelerate the flow of water and prevent build up.

However, Brendan Hegarty, chief executive of the council, said Rivers Agency were not able to complete the work before the timeframe required.

"We were hoping Rivers Agency would be able to progress and bring forward the scheme in Omagh in order for some of the Flood Alleviation works to be completed prior to interfering with the Campus work but we have been informed that is not possible within the time frames.

"The recommendation in relation to progressing with the Riverside Walk is purely based on the fact that we've already delayed the project as we were waiting to see if it was possible to have the river realigned.

"Now that Rivers Agency have told us that there isn't going to be a river alignment in the short term, members simply want to proceed with the third phase of the Riverside Walk.

"Ultimately, the Rivers Agency have explained there is no way they could deliver the realignment of the river within the time scales required to enhance the Strule Shared Campus project."

In response, Independent councillor, Dr Deehan, said the decision to proceed with the Riverside Walk ahead of the Flood Alleviation Scheme was a case of "putting the cart before the horse".

She continued: "The progression of phase one of the Omagh Alleviation Scheme was heralded to us as a 'great triumph'.

"It made perfect sense to realign the River Strule prior to progressing with Phase Three of the Riverside Walk and the construction of the Shared Education Campus playing fields and changing facilities.

"River Agency have explained to us that the key to the Omagh Alleviation Scheme was the realignment of the River Strule within the Lisanelly Campus and that it would allow water to escape rapidly from the town area.

 

'Folly'

"To me it is folly beyond belief to spend government money on a scheme like Phase Three of the Riverside Walk and the playing fields in Omagh, only at a future date to have the work dug up again and re-done at the expense of the tax and rate payer."

Dr Deehan said the Omagh Flood Alleviation Scheme is "an extremely important project that should progress as a matter of urgency".

She added: "The Rivers Agency will not give us any reassurance that the risk of flooding in Omagh could be discarded.

"The officer wanted to put people on notice that there is a very significant risk of flooding.

"Whilst I support the third phase of the Riverside Walk and also support the development of the playing fields at the Campus, I feel those projects should not take priority over the Flood Alleviation Scheme in the county town of Tyrone."

Meanwhile, Omagh Town councillor, Chris Smyth, said the council hadn't taken a "very prudent approach" regarding the interest of protecting the money of local rate payers.

He added: "I consider it complete economic folly to invest in a Riverside Walk which will eventually be ripped up when the river is rerouted.

"I had suggested that we attempt to get a written statement from central government ensuring that if the investment was wasted, central government would pay for any repair work, a proposal which was voted against."

In a statement, a council spokesperson said: "Rivers Agency had sought to take advantage of the imminent construction works at the Strule Shared Education Campus to undertake the realignment of the River Strule, but due to a variety of reasons, the timelines could not be joined. 

"The realignment of the River Strule was due to be programmed in approximately 10 to 15 years, and we understand this is when the works were to take place.  

"The Rivers Agency scheme has not therefore been delayed, but it has now reverted to its original position within the Rivers Agency work programme."

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